We met “Project Runway Junior” co-host Tim Gunn when he was in Manhattan recently.
Who was your inspiration for fashion?
Cary Grant, but you’ll probably ask, “Who’s he?” How about George Clooney?
When you were younger, did you ever think you would be famous?
Never. You flatter me by saying “famous.” I never thought I would be a public figure in any way. All this happened to me after I turned 50. So it’s many years ahead for you all, but it was a whole new life in a manner of speaking and to be honest with you, I’m having the best time ever. I’m having a blast.
Does the audience at home and in the studio get to vote also?
No. They don’t. It’s a very interesting question. The show would have to be live if the audience at home could vote. We tape many weeks in advance and in order to do that, the show would have to be live. That’s an interesting idea. I like it. I have to tell you, [on] “Project Runway Junior,” I agree with the judges on everything. On who goes home, on who wins, on everything. And on regular “Project Runway,” I seldom agree with the judges. So I like our new group.
What do you like most about fashion?
I like the fact that it changes. I’m always making the distinction between fashion and clothes. We need clothes. We don’t need fashion. And the difference is clothes don’t need to change and we want fashion. We have a fervor for it. It excites us. And also fashion happens in a context, which is why it does change. And the context is societal, it’s cultural, it’s historic, it’s economic, and it’s political. So if you think about what’s on the cover of the NY Times and from that front to the back page all that content, it’s what should inform designers. Work happens in a context and that’s very important to understand.
Is it hard to be famous?
I’ll go back to saying that if it happens to you after you turn 50, you know who you are. No, it’s a great honor and it’s a lot of fun.
Will the challenges be easier for the teenagers on “Project Runway Junior”?
Well, I’m going to tell you a secret. The Lifetime executives were very worried the challenges were too complex and too difficult. And Sarah Ray, the showrunner, and I had a little meeting with the executives and just said, “Trust these young people. They’re talented, they’re deft to execution, they know how to make clothes, and they’re fearless. They are just going to fly with these challenges.” And boy, do they. I have children thinking about their work. It’s phenomenal. Better than Season 14 of “Project Runway.”
Do you have any tips for us?
Yes. Know your tools. The sewing machine is like a musical instrument you have to practice. In that same regard, know that like playing a musical instrument, nothing comes easily. That’s going to require a lot of practice and a lot of tenacity to make yourself practice, look at books about fashion history and understand the history of clothing. It’s fascinating when you think about the history of mankind and civilization and you look way back. I was at the Metropolitan Museum yesterday. One of the ways in which we know about those people is through the environments in which they lived, the clothes that they wore. So it tells the story of history. And the most important aspect of advice is tap into yourself and discover who you are as a designer, who you are designing for. I have to say, as young people, well this is true for adults, the wonderful thing about being a designer or an artist is that you continue to evolve. You continue to discover new things about yourself, and inform the work that you produce and you’re constantly growing and developing. You’re not stagnating in one place and saying, “Well this is what I do and [these are] the colors that I like, these are the silhouettes that I respond to.” They are at that moment, but as you move forward with your evolution that will correspondently evolve. And it’s exciting to think that things are changing.
What was the weirdest outfit you have ever seen a designer make?
Oh boy. How about the one Heidi Klum wore to the Creative Arts Emmys this year? Did you all see it? She looked like Big Bird. Google “2015 Emmys Heidi Klum” and you will see it. I have to tell you I’ve never ever seen Heidi when she hasn’t looked totally fabulous. But now I have.
What are some of the favorite designs you have seen on “Project Runway”?
I loved the unconventional materials challenges when the designers have to take things that normally we wouldn’t wear and make them into things that appear to be garments and in fact are wearable. Those are my very, very favorites. . . . On “Project Runway Junior,” we take the designers to a carwash and that’s the source of their unconventional materials. And it’s phenomenal.
Do you watch your own shows?
I do and I’ll tell you why. I see everything. I’m there all day every day and I don’t know what will actually appear in the show because if I were editing the show, the show would run 24 hours a day, which it can’t do. So I’ll never know what we’ll see and what we won’t see. I will tell you this though, if anyone ever says to you, “Oh, ‘Project Runway,’ they edit it for drama” — we don’t. The editing is so kind to everyone, it’s kind and it’s very supportive.
You’re known to be an animal advocate. You don’t like fur used in designs. Do you feel the same way about leather?
Well, I’m wearing it so I’ll say no. Eventually I believe advances will be made in faux leather and when we can’t discern the difference I’ll be very happy to wear it. At the moment it’s not the case, but leather is also a by-product of food to be perfectly honest in most cases and fur is not. There are animals that are raised for their fur. That’s an entirely different matter and I just don’t believe it’s necessary to wear it or to make it. It’s cruel and how would each of us feel if we ended up on a coat? It would be pretty awful. But leather is another matter. I see it as being something separate.